By on May 20, 2014

Google self-driving car

Google’s autonomous vehicle research has come far over the five years since the Silicon Valley giant started down the road. Though more is yet be accomplished before the future comes, Google is ready to move forward with the next phase of its research work: jumping from test units into the real world.

Automotive News reports in a rare media presentation held last week, Google’s autonomous vehicle boss Christopher Urmson stated his company talks to automakers often about how best to bring what Google has to offer to the public:

It has to be at a price point where the value to the customer exceeds the cost to the customer. We’re working on that.

Urmson added that such technology would not come to market until it was ready with all safety issues have been worked out to the best of Google’s ability, proclaiming the driver needs to be able to trust the technology before letting the vehicle take the wheel.

Said autonomous technology has been developed through the use of GPS and 3D mapping systems linked to a roof-mounted laser that scans the environment around the vehicle. So far, 2,000 miles of road — within reach of Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. — have been mapped out and traversed, but with over 4 million miles of road in the United States, the search engine giant has more work to go before the autonomous Nexus Auto is ready for primetime, which Urmson expects will come by the time his son turns 16 in 2020.

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34 Comments on “Google’s Autonmous Vehicle Project Readies For Next Step...”


  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    If they are ready for 2020, then the second generation should be ready in time to keep me from being one of THOSE old drivers. Yippee!

  • avatar

    It’ll never happen.

    Even Johnny Cab crashed…

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    This technology is an ambulance chaser’s dream. This will never happen due to liability issues.

    • 0 avatar
      brenschluss

      I don’t see why insurers wouldn’t be happy to cover your self-driving car, probably less risk than you driving yourself around. As things stand, I think you’d still be liable at all times, as you have the ability to take control at any time and are expected to do so in an “emergency.”

      Anyway, I think many would be willing to sign away all recourse to not have to drive themselves to work if it came down to that, too.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        >> I don’t see why insurers wouldn’t be happy to cover your self-driving car,

        Look up the price of a laserdyne scanner, then take a look at that roof mount. How long will it take to remove the scanner from the roof?

        • 0 avatar
          brenschluss

          I doubt Google would be pushing this into the mainstream if they didn’t have a plan to miniaturize and/or secure the expensive parts required to make it work.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            Miniaturization and cost reduction is challenging because of the power of the lasers needed for automotive use and the quality of the optics. Personally, I think there may be other issues as well, but I’m not sure until I’ve done more research. I won’t do that unless I’m paid.

            Harbor Freight has a couple of battery powered reciprocating saws that could easily liberate any device from a vehicle. You can’t bury the thing under the seats – it has to be external or near the surface.

          • 0 avatar
            Steve65

            Seriously, guys. If this ever makes it to production status, it’s going to be built into the roof, not strapped on top like a bike rack.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    The market is actually pretty big, especially for the boring “appliance” cars. I know my father would gladly spend an extra $20K on a self-driving Prius, and I hate to admit that I probably would too, given the drudgery of my 80 mile round-trip, traffic laden commute.

    I may hate how the Prius drives, but if I don’t have to, you know, actually drive it, it really becomes vastly better.

    And I think the liability is perfectly solvable, as mentioned elsewhere in this thread: Just have the driver responsible as a “backup”, and the normal liability insurance market handles things. Given the lack of distraction and other factors, such autonomous cars would quickly become much cheaper to insure.

  • avatar
    sco

    Hey Google, don’t forget that this car better get me from point A to point B at least as fast as I can get there driving it myself, faster would be better. If its slower I can take the bus, it drives me too.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      As long as you don’t have to drive, speed becomes less important. I’m getting the minivan version, with seats removed and a mattress installed. Besides, anyone who gives one iota about point to point speed in urban environs during rush hour, will be on a bike most of the year anyway.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    I’m going to guess that these cars aren’t truly AUTONOMOUS, but are more like the automated parts carts that auto plants use to move components to the assembly lines by using sensors to follow indicators in the floors and walls.

    • 0 avatar
      Nicholas Weaver

      No, these are true self-driving cars: they scan their surroundings and react to pedestrians, other drivers, etc. Its not like those carts in a factory, these things are “seeing” the surroundings with a laser scanner (the thing on the roof), cameras, and other sensors.

      And these things are getting amazingly good. E.g. a year and a half ago, a Stanford Audi was lapping Thunderhill in full-autonomous mode within a couple seconds of a pro driver in the same car.

      • 0 avatar
        OneAlpha

        Huh. Okay, my mistake.

        • 0 avatar
          Steve65

          Yeah, that Stanford Audi had to be shown the way around the track first. IOW, it was given a map and a route. It wasn’t just turned loose and left to find its own way. Still an impressive accomplishment, but not nearly as much as “autonomous lapping” implies.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Getting around a racetrack faster than a human, ought to be quite simple for an autonomous car. As long as there aren’t other drivers out there during the same session, at least. In an actual race, I can totally imagine it wouldn’t take a pro team too long to figure out how to game to poor robot into driving sub-optimally. But left alone to time trial….

  • avatar
    05lgt

    If Google gives me a car and pays me to drive it around the country, I’ll map the heck out of some roads. Talk about a dream job, driving *every* road.

  • avatar
    doublechili

    “Autonomous” – acting independently or having the freedom to do so.

    The cars will be autonomous, not the people. The people will be free to engage with their devices and further immerse themselves in the (Google’s) virtual world. Google’s software will be engaging in the real-world activity.

    Just, you know, saying. Although, since my oldest will also be 16 in 2020, this does have a certain appeal to me in that it would hopefully increase his chances of surviving his teen years. Of course, he’ll then be subjugated by his robotic masters in his 20s, but you have to take the bad with the good…. ;)

  • avatar

    I give up. I will welcome our self-driving cars with open arms.

    Every time I have a trip that requires use of the freeway, there is seemingly about a 50% chance that some kind of accident will jam traffic up and add time to my trip. These delays can often be considerable. I suspect that most of these accidents are due to human error, not unforeseeable lightning bolts and mechanical failures.

    If all cars were under the control of all-seeing, all-knowing, benevolent Google Skynet, delays would probably be a lot less common.

    I will miss driving. I will miss The Truth About Cars when it becomes The Truth About In-Car Entertainment, because cars as we know them today aren’t a thing any more. But I won’t miss the hours of wasted time every week.

    I give up. Google, my body is ready.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I guarantee you that they going to spend all this money for nothing. All this is good until some things not starting to happen. For example, a person jumping on the hood and telling that driver didn’t see him. Or some laser pointers interference. Or something. There will be a major law suit eventually and autonomous cars will be out.

    • 0 avatar
      Nicholas Weaver

      “person jumping on the hood”…. Well, the laser scanner is even better than a Russian dashcam, maintaining a full 360 degree view and logging all the information. Which means that the hood-jumper is going to lose in court, and both the insurance company and the autonomous car maker are going to make sure that they lose.

      They are already up at 700k miles, accident free in current testing, which is already in the “Good driver” category.

      As all the initial deployments are going to still require a human behind the wheel, the human will still get blamed for failing to override the machine in case of an accident. After a few hundred million miles, where the accident rate is vastly lower (and data on accidents showing that when they do occur, it was a human override making things worse), then things will relax.

      Although, the biggest initial use is probably not cars but trucks. Take 3 big-rigs, all autonomous, and slave them together. The trucks follow at about 1′ off the bumper of the truck ahead… The gas savings will be enormous.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    How about this one. When I drive, I go around potholes. How about this car?

  • avatar

    had the joy of following one of those turdmobiles on a suburban bay area street this evening. posted speed was 25mph and the turdmobile was bang on. it also came to a full stop at the intersection, waited -and waited- before moving on. nobody drives the speed limit on that road and the infamous california stop is well known, except apparently to the turdmobiles ….

  • avatar
    JimothyLite

    What’s great about this is anytime there’s a recall, the cars can just turn themselves in.

    • 0 avatar
      doublechili

      True, but what’s not great about this is that anytime you have a run-in with the law, the car can just turn you in.

      Pleasant female voice: “Doors locking. Unlock override implemented. Destination reprogrammed to Internal Revenue Service offices. Enjoy your ride.”

  • avatar
    wmba

    Has Google even talked to the car manufacturers about implementing this scheme? Or are they all supposed to cave in to the great god Google?

    Obviously, based on another post, Mercedes and BMW are doing their own thing and do not plan on using Google. I don’t blame them.

    Why would you entrust your vehicle’s behavior to some third party whose main intent is to sell more advertising? And whose scheme apparently involves using road mapping as part of the guidance? Which of course, they control as well.

    These systems need to be autonomous from Google or any other hair-shirt “technology” outfit.

    • 0 avatar
      brenschluss

      I’ve skimmed a couple articles on this + Wikipedia and that’s the extent of my knowledge. What I’ve read though says that the goal is not, for now anyway, to have autonomy in every driveway, but that autonomous taxis might be nice. Someone also said something about this being ad-supported, but I’d rather pay, frankly. So it wouldn’t need to be a beautifully integrated system, just one that a couple kids couldn’t pull off.

      That in mind, it seems more research to advance the state of the art than a play at making the 2020 Malibu a self-driver.


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